Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Century of the Self

The Century of the Self is a four part BBC documentary by filmmaker Adam Curtis that was released in 2002.

You'll learn how we went from being people who bought what we needed to being people who buy (or want to buy) what we have been manipulated into desiring.

We were sold among other things; the myth of unlimited consumption, endless wars, dishonest politicians, trickle-down economics, the benevolence of corporations and...whatever else the elite who shape public opinion want us to buy.

We were taught the supremacy of the individual and the glory of greed so we would compete with each other rather than listening to our natural instincts to help each other. Why?

Partly because it's good for business to have all these "individual" consumers. More broadly it's because those that have power are not giving it up without a fight. Those who benefit most from the entrenched power-structure couldn't win a fair fight because they are outnumbered 99 to 1. The powerful have to divide the majority to maintain the status-quo that they have spent decades erecting using the best propaganda, malleable politicians and corrupt judges money can buy.

There's another force at work which comes out of the radicalism of the sixties and early seventies. The people wanting change in that era realized they could not change the power structure so they retreated to self-actualization. This results in all kinds of gurus, cults, cult-like stuff, new-agey things like bio-feedback, EST, Rolfing - millions of self-improvement books, and to the delight of corporations massively increased consumption as each individual "buys" his or her individuality.

With all that going on the neo-liberals Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan are elected by a weird coalition of ex-hippies, trusting individuals, and corporations and we're off to the races. Government, unions, taxes on the rich and lazy poor people are the enemies in the Reagan/Thatcher world. Forty years later finds the U.S. lagging almost every economically developed nation in serving the needs of the majority of citizens. So maybe time to try something else...

It's super interesting (or maybe super frightening depending on your outlook) to think about how crude, but effective - public relations, propaganda, and advertising were prior to the appearance of digital devices and data mining.

The Delphic maxim Know Thyself has never been more crucial for anyone desiring freedom. It's a personal choice - either let others decide for you in an authoritarian world, assume you've made a decision using your rational will as most of us do in today's society, or take the road less traveled and dare to be free.